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Story of John G. Benkie

The Kouts Druggist

October 17, 1934

In the spring of 1870, my Uncle John Benkie, and I went to White Oak Grove for dogfish.  Armed only with clubs we got a bag full in hardly no time, and it was all we could do to carry them home.  Uncle knocked the fish out and I pulled them out of the water with strong willow pole.  That summer I visited the Osten Landing, and there I met Sam Osten and Sam Meeker, who lived there.  Each man had a shack to live in.  Each man had live boxes that were filled with all kinds of fish, and when I left them they loaded me up with all kinds of fish, and told me to come back for more anytime.  So I visited them quite often for this reason.

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John Benkie in front of group

There was only one Bridge that time connecting La Porte and Marshall counties, which is called the Lemming Bridge, and in 1874 English Lake came into bloom by the Richmond Indiana Club.  Judge Blodgett was the president of this club, and later Cincinnati joined them.  At this time Charley Rodgers was a president.  Indianapolis club members hunted north of there, and Ranse Allen, Bob Brown and Fred Ange were trappers and fishermen, but no hunters.  The boat pushers were Frank, Joe and Max Trinosky, and Fred and Harry Cass.

Crumb Creek and Mill Creek ran into Mud Lake, and then to Fish Lake, which is the real start of the Kankakee River.  No railroad crossing except the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago railroad.  Then came the Nickel Plate railroad in 1876.  The second bridge was the Loudge Bridge, 1 ½ miles south and west of English Lake. The Lafayette Fish Club built a cottage on the south side of the river. Tom Hogen, Charles Sherwood, Dr. Cakel, Tom Gagen, J. R. Young and Capt. Keys, from Kentucky, an Ohio River pilot, was overseer of this club.  West of the railroad was the Wampoo Bridge and then in 1888 Dunn’s Bridge was built.  My fishing experiences are too numerous to mention since I began fishing in the old channel and now the new one.  I don’t think this present generation would believe my stories even if I told them.  I have spent many pleasant hours on the river, and down in my cottage at Point Comfort on the banks of the Kankakee near here.

In my hand I hold a commission granted to me by George W. Miles, Commissioner of Fisheries and Game.  It bears the date of May 9,1911.  It reads as follows: Be known, that John Benkie, of Kouts Indiana, is hereby authorized to have in his possession spears for the purpose of taking carp from the Kankakee River and its tributaries, together with assistance as he may designate

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l-r George Klebs, William Spears, John G. Benkie

No person, except said John Benkie shall have the right to have any such spears in his possession except when they are being used by virtue of this appointment, and under the direction of John Benkie, and the said John Benkie shall at all times securely keep all such spears in his possession when they’re not being used.  The fish taken by virtue of this appointment shall not be sold, but shall be distributed among the people who take them and those living in the vicinity of the waters from which they are taken.

Dated at Indianapolis, this 9th day of May, 1911.

George W. Mills, Commissioner of Fisheries and Game.

The story behind this strange document is as follows: There were at this time two poor boys who lived on the Jasper County side of the river.  One was Willie Bush and the other was Burt Wiserman.  The boys were out one day on the marsh and were caught spearing dogfish by a game warden.  This officer arrested them and brought them before Justice Homer Porter in Kouts.  The boys were found guilty and fined $28.50, which they could not pay.  Judge Porter asked me if I would go on their bond, which I did.  I then wrote a letter to the Fish and Game Commissioner at Indianapolis, and told him the facts and circumstances.  I did not think the boys should be punished for taking dogfish from the marsh.  Mr. Mills wrote Justice Porter and instructed him to release the boys, and dismiss the case against them.  Incidentally, he fired the game warden who made the arrest.  The order authorizing me to have spears in my possession for the purpose of taking carp from the river and its tributaries has never been revoked and so as far as I know it is still in full force and effect.  I know of no other of its kind in existence.


John G. Benkie

Kouts Centennial Book

Another early businessman that served Kouts long and faithfully was John G. Benkie who came here from Wanatah with his wife and two draughts, Etta and Mae, in 1890.  Kouts was not an unknown place to him because his father and uncle had worked here on the construction of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railroad in the 1860’s

Mr. Benkie, a pharmacist with experience both in Wanatah and Chicago, bought the building just south of the Erie Railroad from Dr. McKee who left Kouts to practice in Chicago. When Benkie first came to Kouts they lived in a cottage where the Heinold Elevator garage is now, and in 1895 built a large home on the same street with Kosankes and next door to the Rosenbaum home.  The cottage was moved out on 49 and incorporated in the Doyne Stewart home.

A son, Raymond, and daughter, Louise, were born here.  In 1900 Mr. Benkie enlarged the drug store and it housed the first telephone exchange Kouts had of only twenty subscribers.  In 1918 a new front was added and in 1925 an addition was built on the back bringing the building to its present size and appearance.  After a course in pharmaceutical school Raymond joined his father in the business, and he and his sister, Etta operated the drug store alone after the father’s death in 1939, and until Raymond’s death in 1950, when the business was sold to Louis and Dorothy Marquardt.  Jorgensen Heating and Sheet Metal rent the building, still owned by the Benkie’s.

Housing the first telephone exchange in his stores Mr. Benkie did cast its spell and one of his family.  Louise served as an operator for over thirty years both in Kouts and later in Valparaiso as the Kouts office was closed by automation.  Louise retired in 1963 and she and Etta occupy the family home maintaining an active and ever friendly interest in the community.   


Kouts home to be featured on HGTV program tonight


January 22, 2006

By: Amy Lavalley

Port-Tribune correspondent

Kouts- A home built in the late 1800’s will appear in an upcoming segment on HGTV’s “If Wall Could Talk.”

And John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, could not be happier because the show will give the hone and its original owner, local druggest John Benkie, the due they deserve.

“I think it’s important that Kouts gets notoriety, and John Benkie is a local success story,” said Hodson, who owns 150 acres that once belonged to Benkie.  Hodson is in the process of returning the former farm land back into wetlands.

Benkie, born in 1857 in Germany, moved from Wanatah to Kouts around 1890 to take a job as the town’s druggest.  Benkie moved to Kouts with two daughters, Mae and Etta, after the death of his first wife, Rose, Hodson said.

Benkie and his second wife, Molly, had a son and daughter, John Raymond and Louise.  In 1895, the couple had builder John Steiner construct a home for them on Indiana Street .

The home, Hodson said, is in the Queen Anne/pre-classical architectural style, and state officials have said the home is a notable resource, significant for its architecture.

Benkie, who went on to become a respected businessman in Kouts and served on the school board and as a local politician, fascinates Hodson.

“That’s why he’s a small-town American success story,” Hodson said.

Benkie’s home remained in his family until 1989, when his daughter Louise died.  At that point, the Kosanke family, which owns a funeral home in town, bought the home and began to restore it.  Members of that family still own the home today.

The home, its history and preservation caught the attention of producers for HGTV’s show “If Walls Could Talk,” who began research about a year ago into possible segments for the program.

“I think one of the biggest things that appealed to us was the historical signs around the home,” said Liz Kerrigan, an associate producer for the show, which is produced by Highnoon Entertainment.

The five-minute segment on the home premieres tonight.  Kerrigan and her crew were in Kouts in August taping for the show.

The fact that the home is in a rural area, and its original owner were prominent in the community, also helped in selecting the Benkie house for a segment on the show.

In the course of renovation and restoration work, the home’s owners found jewelry and other artifacts from the Benkie family.  The owners went on to research those objects and their significance.

“The process of discovery is one of the most important to us, “ Kerrigan said of the owners’ research.


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This Old House to Share its Story


KOUTS | Even a house has its 15 minutes of fame.

That time has come for the Kouts home built in 1895 by pharmacist and prominent citizen John Benkie. The house's treasures and stories will be the subject of a spot on the Home & Garden Television show "If Walls Could Talk" on Sunday.

When Joan Kosanke and daughter Sue Yates bought the Queen Anne-style home 16 years ago, they also acquired its contents, which included diaries, home furnishings -- and an apron made by the wife of the town's founder.

For Kankakee Valley Historical Society President John Hodson, who suggested the house for the show, Benkie represents the immigrant strength of the country.

Benkie came to America from Germany as a 10-year-old in 1867. His family settled in Wanatah, but the young man eventually was lured to Kouts, which was in need of a pharmacist. The pharmacy he built now is occupied by the Koffee Kup cafe.

Hodson said Benkie was hardworking and became involved in local government, the school system and the town's development.

"A great, typical immigrant success story," Hodson said.

Benkie also owned 160 acres along the Kankakee River near Baum's Bridge, including, for a few years at the turn of the 20th century, the Collier Lodge property.

Among the historical finds Kosanke and Yates turned up was the diary kept by Benkie's son Raymond in which he recounts his experiences as a medic in France in World War I. After the war he visited each of the 48 states with the American Legion and wrote accounts of those travels, too.

"Priceless," is how Kosanke describes it.

Kosanke also found an embroidered muslin apron she was about to put in the "to go" pile. But looking in a pocket, she found a gift note to Benkie's daughter Etta signed by the wife of the town's founder Barnhardt Kouts.

Eventually, the treasure will go to the history room at the town library.

"That's where it belongs," Kosanke said, "where people can see it."